On Saturday, the countries announced they had reached a deal to move ahead with the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade pact that Trump threw into question when he withdrew from it earlier this year.
The agreement represents something of a rebuke of Trump, coming near the end of his five-country, 12-day swing through Asia, and reflects the willingness of other nations to proceed without the buy-in of the United States.
A statement early Saturday trumpeted a breakthrough on the “core elements” of the trade agreement. “Ministers are pleased to announce that they have agreed on the core elements of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership,” it read.
The deal was originally expected to be announced Friday — the same day Trump addressed business leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit here, in a speech heavy on tough talk and protectionist rhetoric — but was delayed after Canada raised concerns.
The decision to move ahead with the TPP agreement, minus the United States, reflects how Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal created a vacuum other nations are now moving to fill, with or without the president.
In his speech Friday, Trump struck an aggressive note, saying he believed the United States had for too long been the victim of poor trade deals.
“We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” he said. “I am always going to put America first, the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first.”
Instead, he said the U.S. was still a willing trade partner, but only for deals based on “mutual respect and mutual benefit.”
“I will make bilateral trade agreements with any Indo-Pacific nation that wants to be our partner and that will abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade,” he said. “What we will no longer do is enter into large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty, and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible.”
A senior administration official, asked if the new trade announcement foreshadowed the United States being left behind in the region, rejected the notion, pointing out that “the president is here visiting and is part of the dialogue, and has already spent a significant portion of time talking to his allies and like-minded partners in Japan and South Korea.”
“We'll continue that conversation with many parties here,” the official said. “So we absolutely are engaged on the economic side, and we’ll continue to be so."